Monday, September 19, 2011

NWA Mudfest 2011

As I arrived at Devil's Den State Park it had already been raining for a few hours. The rain continued to fall as I got suited up in the car to get a pre-ride of the race course before nightfall. I jumped on my Orbea Alma 29'r and after making it about 10 minutes down the trail, I flatted my 2.2 Race King and decided to fix it and turn around instead of getting lost in the woods at night. Generally I am all about getting lost in the woods at night, but not in the pouring rain, not tonight.

As I got back to the car, I decided it was a good idea to change my tires for something that would handle the amount of slippery mud and rock and roots that were going to be on the course the next day. I was slipping and sliding all over the place with my current set-up, even spinning out on uphills while seated. At the time I felt a little silly standing in the dark, getting rained on and trying to air up a UST set-up with no compressor while most other racers were huddled around a campfire eating and drinking the finest of camp brews.

After cleaning the mud off my ride, and getting a set of suitable tires on the wheels, I decided to curl up in a sleeping bag in the back of my V.W. wagon and get a good nights sleep while the trails got nice and soggy for race day.

The next morning, the gods seemed to smile upon us and grace the CAT 3, CAT 2, and single speeders with some semblance of nice weather and decent trail conditions.

Then all hell broke loose.....again.

The Cat 1 race got pushed back until 2pm due to all the rainfall, and ended up getting started in the rain anyway. The race was shortened to 3 laps instead of 4. Not that the bill at the bike shop is going to be any lower, that much mud still ruins every single moving part of a mountain bike. As I stood in a growing puddle of dirty water, under a slightly waterproof canopy, with a bunch of other cold, wet dudes, I started to calculate how much I could possibly win and how much the race was definitely going to cost me. I should have bought lottery odds would have been better. However, I am familiar with "math" so I don't buy lottery tickets.

As the race started, I immediately took to the front. The sooner this was over, the sooner I could be warm again. It's amazing how many times I race faster because I know what going to happen afterwards.

I consider myself a pretty skilled technical rider, and I didn't want to find myself involved in any wrecks that I wasn't directly responsible for. This strategy seemed to play out pretty well for me, as there was a good bit of carnage happening.

 Zane Jeffers and I hammered out 3 full speed laps without much regard to how dangerous the trail was when moving that quickly on wet rocks and roots. Our first 5.6 mile lap was right at 24 minutes. Faster than the SS crew that got to ride the trail before it was soupy and nasty. NICE.

I was having a flawless technical day on the trail. Everything I did just seemed to turn out for the best. I rode as if the trail were bone dry and the bike moved in a very sketchy sideways manner through just about every corner. I can't tell you how many times I braced for impact and managed to pull through and keep the rubber side down. There is no better/scarier feeling than going airborne off of a ledge, landing on muddy, rocky trail and sliding through trees while holding on for dear life. All the while feeling, somehow, in control. I guess all that training in crap weather is finally starting to pay off.

I was jamming on the flats, and railing the descents, so I was putting pretty good time on the rest of the field. By the time we hit Racer's Hill each lap, I would always see Zane start creeping up on me. I knew I had to keep pushing the technical areas in order to stay ahead. I wasn't feeling my strongest, but I was riding really well, picking solid lines, and reacting to the trail as close to perfect as possible.

Know what you are doing well, and work with it. That's racing.

I finished up with a first place finish, and a load of work to do on my bike. It was a much needed finish, as the rest of this year has been more full of "lessons learned" than great races executed.